There were standing ovations, a nose-to-nose disagreement that led to the benches clearing and a home debut for the top prospect in baseball. And yet, despite all the hoopla that surrounded Camden Yards on Friday, there was very little pulse among the Orioles.

They had landed late in the night after sweeping the Boston Red Sox, then turned around for a home game against the surging Milwaukee Brewers. They donned T-shirts bearing the face of Jackson Holliday, their new 20-year-old teammate. They played in front of a crowd that stood with hope and expectation through the rain that drizzled on and off to see Holliday.

The resulting performance was Baltimore’s most lopsided loss of the season, falling to Milwaukee 11-1. Even the intrigue that comes from a benches-clearing dispute between Brewers shortstop Willy Adames and Orioles catcher James McCann did little to liven up a game filled with unmet expectation.

Much of that revolves around Holliday, who arrived at Camden Yards for the third game of his career. His parents, Matt and Leslee, sat in the crowd. There were signs welcoming the infielder to Baltimore, and many fans who flocked to the park Friday wore that Holliday giveaway T-shirt.

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In the clubhouse before the game, a throng of reporters replaced the usual gaggle that meanders between lockers. The television cameras focused, and all manner of questions were directed Holliday’s way.

What’s this like? Have you settled in yet? Are you nervous?

After the game, in front of another scrum of reporters following a third straight hitless night, Holliday said he appreciated the crowd support. He wasn’t nervous. He wasn’t totally settled in yet, however, and it showed.

“I feel really comfortable on defense, and trying to press maybe a little too much on offense,” Holliday said. “But it will come.”

There are many players within Baltimore’s clubhouse who can relate to what Holliday is experiencing. Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson were top prospects upon their arrival; the attention is an expected part of it, and yet it doesn’t make this easier.

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“Just try to enjoy it as much as you can,” said Rutschman, whose debut two years ago was filled with similar fanfare. “Obviously, there will be a lot of nerves. It’s going to die down eventually, so enjoy it for what it is.”

But Rutschman will be the first to admit, when the attention dies down, when the spotlight focuses on the 25 other players as much as the singular, one’s breathing might be less shallow.

“Don’t forget to breathe,” fellow rookie Colton Cowser told Holliday. “Sometimes you get stuck in the box and you’re not breathing at all.”

To expect immediate production from Holliday is to dismiss reality. General manager Mike Elias said as much before Friday’s game. “It would probably be foolish to expect anything but growing pains, but we’ll see how this goes.”

Those growing pains have been awfully apparent during each plate appearance. Holliday is still searching for that first hit, but he’s not the only one in a rut. Austin Hays, an outfielder eight years Holliday’s senior, is in the midst of an 0-for-25 stretch.

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Fans and Camden Yards document the moment during the Baltimore debut of top prospect Jackson Holliday on April 12, 2024.
Fans at Camden Yards document the moment during the Baltimore debut of top prospect Jackson Holliday on Friday night. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Holliday struck out three times. He’s falling behind in counts and expanding the zone on certain swings. He admitted he “shouldn’t have chased a few” of the pitches he saw. Holliday wasn’t the only one who struggled against Brewers right-hander Freddy Peralta, though. Peralta recorded 11 strikeouts in six innings.

“It’s three games. It feels like longer, but it’s just three games. To be able to adjust is the most important part of this game ’cause you fail a lot. I was able to do that in spring training, and looking forward to more at-bats and more games to be more comfortable and make those adjustments as quick as possible.”

Cowser, meanwhile, is practically lighting his bat on fire each time he steps into the box. On Thursday, when the Orioles completed a sweep of the Red Sox, Cowser’s two homers helped pave the way.

The outfielder had only three at-bats over the course of his first four games, reserved for late-game substitutions as a defensive replacement. Then he started a game, and the hits kept coming. Entering Friday, Cowser was 10-for-21, with six of those hits coming against the Red Sox.

And on Friday Cowser continued his barrage as a No. 2 hitter — his highest placement in the batting order yet. He lashed a double to left field in his first plate appearance. In doing so, Cowser continued to display his opposite-field aptitude (six of his hits have been to that field). Then Cowser rocketed a homer to right field in his next at-bat and the crowd serenaded him with “Moos” as he rounded the bases.

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“Using the whole field, line-drive approach, taking what’s kind of given to him,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s really swinging the bat well.”

While the rest of the hitters struggled, Colton Cowser hit his third home run in two nights. (The Baltimore Banner)

That was the highlight of a game that otherwise fell out of the Orioles’ grasp early, when right-hander Tyler Wells allowed four runs in four innings. One of those runs came when Joey Ortiz lashed an RBI triple, reintroducing himself to the Orioles (the team that traded him and left-hander DL Hall for right-hander Corbin Burnes).

Jonathan Heasley, who pitched two innings of relief, conceded six runs — including the three-run shot from Adames. It was a departure from the usual stout pitching performances to begin the season and, for the first time this year, an Orioles starter didn’t complete five innings.

“I didn’t give the team a chance to win today,” Wells said, “and that really pisses me off.”

When Adames arrived at the plate in the sixth inning, he and McCann got in each other’s faces. Neither player was ejected, the pushing was minimal and the relievers who evacuated the bullpens only got a jog out of the exercise. Hyde and McCann opted against commenting on the incident, although McCann said “it wasn’t between me and Adames. Something else going on.”

It was that sort of night in Baltimore. Expectations were high; the reality was damp, covered in a drizzle and topped with a loss.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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